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Biden criticizes GOP-led efforts to ban books

Books with LGBTQ themes disproportionately targeted by bans

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President Joe Biden at the Rose Garden of the White House (Screen shot/Independent UK)

President Joe Biden criticized elected Republican officials for the increasingly widespread practice of banning books from America’s schools and libraries in prepared remarks delivered from the White House on Monday.

Addressing an audience gathered in the Rose Garden for the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Teachers of the Year event, the president said, “Empty shelves don’t help kids learn very much,” adding, “I’ve never met a parent who wants a politician dictating what their kid can learn, and what they can think, or who they can be.”

By framing these policies as government overreach, Biden co-opted and repurposed the “parental rights” language commonly used by conservatives advocating for book bans.

For example, right-wing activists often argue that requiring schools and libraries to allow interested parties to review the materials made available to minors and lodge complaints with anything they may find objectionable rightfully restores the rights of parents to exercise more control over how their children are educated.

According to PEN America, however, the first half of the 2022-2023 school year has seen at least 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles, disproportionately targeting materials that include LGBTQ characters or themes or those that address issues of racial justice.

Explicitly targeting these materials for censorship are elected officials like Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his conservative allies in the state legislature, who last week expanded the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law (officially known as the Parental Rights in Education Act), which Biden has called “hateful.”

Critics have long argued the law, which will now cover all grade levels in Florida’s public schools, uses overly broad language with the specter of many different enforcement mechanisms to create a chilling effect designed to discourage teachers and staff from offering affirming messages to LGBTQ students or from serving openly if they themselves are LGBTQ.

“By opening the door to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement against speech that favors or promotes the inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals,” the American Bar Association wrote, “the law arguably runs afoul of the First Amendment’s stringent prohibition on viewpoint discrimination and imposes an unconstitutional chilling effect on disfavored speech.”

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The White House

Blade joins Vice President Harris at Pride month appearances in NYC

Delivers remarks at Stonewall Inn and a campaign reception

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks near the Stonewall National Monument. (Washington Blade video screen capture by Christopher Kane)

NEW YORK — The Washington Blade joined Vice President Kamala Harris on a trip to New York on Monday, where she made a surprise appearance at the Stonewall Inn and delivered remarks at an LGBTQ campaign reception in support of the Biden Victory Fund.

Her first stop began with a briefing and tour of the Stonewall National Monument by Shirley McKinney, Christopher Street Manhattan Sites Superintendent for the National Park Service. The visit came just ahead of the upcoming 54th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969, which marked the beginning of a nascent movement for LGBTQ civil rights in America.

Harris then proceeded into the bar, where she was joined by its current owner Kurt Kelly and television producer and talk show host Andy Cohen.

Noting how “it was a drag queens fighting on our behalf” to defend patrons against yet another police raid on that fateful summer night in 1969, Kelly asked the vice president, “isn’t that ironic where we are today?”

This year has seen the introduction of a flurry of discriminatory bills in conservative states that target drag performances and performers.

“Yes, I know,” Harris responded. “It’s outrageous.”

“There are over 600 bills that are being proposed or passed, anti-LGBTQ+ bills,” she said. “I was honored to perform some of the first same-sex marriages in our country back in 2004. I look at these young teachers in Florida who are in their 20s, and if they’re in a same-sex relationship, are afraid or fear they might lose their jobs.”

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, signed into law last year by the state’s Republican governor and 2024 presidential contender Ron DeSantis, criminalizes classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. Critics say its overly broad language means an LGBTQ teacher’s decision to display a photo of their family could violate the law and result in penalties, including termination.

“So just thinking about the symmetry there, it pains but it also reminds me that we can take nothing for granted in terms of the progress we’ve achieved,” Harris said.

Later, addressing reporters gathered outside the bar, the vice president said, “I’m here because I also understand not only what we celebrate in terms of those fighters who fought for freedom, but understanding that this fight is not over.”

“Anti-LGBTQ book bans. A policy approach that is ‘Don’t Say Gay.’ People in fear for their life. People afraid to be. These are fundamental issues that point to the need for us to all be vigilant, to stand together,” Harris said, adding, “I feel very strongly no one should be made to fight alone.”

Just before departing en route to the Upper East Side, Harris finished her remarks by discussing how working toward a more just country is both noble and necessary. “Fighting with pride is about being a patriot,” she said.

After taking the stage at the 24th Annual LGBTQ+ Leadership Council Gala, a campaign reception supporting the Biden Victory Fund, Harris began her remarks by proclaiming, “Pride is patriotism,” adding, “There is nothing more patriotic than celebrating freedom, which includes the freedom to love who you love and be who you are.”

She then told the crowd about her visit to Stonewall where, she said, “I reflected on the determination and dedication of patriots like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson” along with the late political consultant Jim Rivaldo, who helped elect gay rights icon Harvey Milk to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978 and then served as campaign manager for Harris when she was first elected to serve as the city’s district attorney in 2004.

“Jim would tell me about the early days of the gay rights movement,” she said, “stories about bringing folks together from the civil rights movement and labor rights movement and women’s rights movement to fight for and to secure freedom.”

Harris then turned to acknowledge another anniversary that was marked on Monday, the eighth year since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

“That progress is not inevitable. It does not just happen. It takes steadfast determination and dedication,” she said, “the kind of determination and dedication possessed by people like Jim Obergefell.”

After thanking Obergefell — who was in the audience, earning a round of applause — Harris said, “it saddens me to think and then talk about aspects of the moment we are in. A moment when LGBTQ+ people and families and freedoms and basic rights are under attack in our country.”

Hours after her remarks, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement marking the High Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling that echoed Harris’s warning:

“Despite the progress that has been made, the fight against LGBTQ+ discrimination remains more urgent than ever as right-wing extremists across the nation seek to undermine legal precedent and strip away basic freedoms,” Pelosi said.

Describing the ascendence of anti-LGBTQ sentiment in America, Harris pointed to the rise in extreme rhetoric, threats, and violence targeting the community, noting the Human Rights Campaign’s proclamation of a state of emergency for LGBTQ people earlier this month.

More evidence of the precarity of the community’s rights and freedoms at this moment, Harris said, comes from the same institution that made equal marriage the law of the land, “the court of Thurgood [Marshall] and RBG,” which “will soon rule in a case that could allow businesses to refuse to serve” LGBTQ Americans. A decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis might come this week.

Extremists on the right, the Vice President warned, are working to claw back rights and freedoms across the board. They “have a plan to push their agenda as far and as wide as they possibly can,” she said, “to attack hard won rights and freedoms state by state. To attack the right to live as your authentic self, to attack the right to vote, to attack the rights of workers to organize, to attack the right to make decisions about one’s own body.”

Harris added, “And by the way, a year after Dobbs, it is clear these extremists also plan to ban abortion nationwide. Nationwide.”

However, she said, in the face of these challenges, thankfully voters have rejected extremism and embraced leaders who “have empathy,” those with “curiosity, concern, and care for the struggles of other people.”

They elected governors who “vetoed bills that would hurt transgender children and who signed bills to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination,” Harris said to raucous applause, pointing to Democratic Govs. Kathy Hochul (N.Y.) and Gretchen Whitmer (Mich.), both in attendance.

President Joe Biden, she said, is this kind of leader — famously unafraid to proclaim his support for marriage equality in 2012 before many others did, and then running on a platform in 2020 that “promised to not only protect but to expand the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ people” while “the other side continued their attacks” against them.

In anticipation of the threat posed by conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s stated interest in revisiting Obergefell, Biden codified legal protections for same-sex and interracial couples by signing the Respect for Marriage Act in December, Harris said.

Ten years ago this week, after refusing to defend the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as California’s attorney general, “I had the privilege to pronounce my friends Kris Perry and Sandy Stier spouses for life,” Harris said.

A full circle moment came at the signing ceremony for the Respect for Marriage Act, she said, where “Kris and Sandy were there on the White House lawn with their four sons” alongside the “families, people from every background, every walk of life, understanding what it means to have a president, to have an administration, who has their back.”

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The White House

GOP is coming for same-sex marriage, Biden warns

Saturday marks a year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe

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President Joe Biden at the Rose Garden of the White House (Screen shot/Independent UK)

President Joe Biden on Friday warned that if Republicans win next year’s elections, they will go after the right to privacy that has provided the basis for legal protections for same-sex marriage and access to contraception.

“These guys are serious, man. I — I said it when the decision came out, and people looked at me like I was exaggerating,” he said. “But they’re not stopping here.” 

Biden delivered the remarks during an event hosted by America’s largest pro-choice organizations in commemoration of the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Americans’ constitutional right to abortion.

Joining the president at the Mayflower Hotel in D.C. were his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Also in attendance were senior administration officials and House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who spoke before Biden took the stage.

Repeating his call for Congress to pass legislation restoring the reproductive freedoms that were erased with the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Biden also denounced the abortion restrictions that were since passed in red states.

“They’re not stopping here,” he said. “Make no mistake, this election is about freedom on the ballot.”

Representatives from the abortion rights groups hosting the event — Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice America — endorsed Biden’s bid for re-election, likely a signal of his campaign’s confidence that reproductive rights will be a defining feature of the 2024 presidential race.

Also on Friday, the White House issued an Executive Order on Strengthening Access to Contraception along with a fact sheet providing an “update on the work of the Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access and the administration’s ongoing efforts to defend reproductive rights.”

The executive order delineates a series of actions including plans to improve access to affordable contraception for those with private health insurance; improve access to over-the-counter contraception; support family planning services and supplies across the Medicaid program; improve Medicare coverage of contraception; ensure “robust coverage” of contraception for service members, veterans and federal employees; increase contraception access for federally supported healthcare programs; improve access to affordable contraception provided by employer sponsored health plans and institutions of higher education; and support research documenting gaps and disparities in access to contraception.

The White House’s fact sheet, meanwhile, summarizes the Biden-Harris administration’s work fighting for reproductive rights in the wake of Dobbs. This has also included a series of actions contained in two executive orders along with those in Friday’s.

Among other moves, the administration has worked to ensure access to medication abortion, protect the freedom to travel across state lines for medical care, safeguard the privacy of health information and partner with statewide abortion rights advocates.

On Saturday, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, issued a press release committing the organization to fighting on behalf of reproductive freedom.

“LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately affected by abortion bans,” according to the press release. “Even prior to the Dobbs decision, lesbian, bisexual, and queer cisgender women reported higher rates of unwanted or mistimed pregnancies relative to heterosexual women, often due to the discrimination that they face in healthcare settings.”

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The White House

Rose Montoya apologizes for topless stunt at White House

Trans lawmaker says community is ‘under a very powerful microscope’

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Rose Montoya at the White House (Screen capture/Youtube)

Rose Montoya, the trans “influencer” who made headlines earlier this week for filming a video on Saturday in which she appears topless on the South Lawn of the White House during an official Pride Month event, has apologized.

“I want to take this moment to apologize for the impact of my actions,” she said in a video shared on Instagram.

“I especially want to apologize to my Black trans brothers and siblings, especially transgender women who are Black, because I understand that you all are constantly at a disproportionate level impacted by the actions of others and especially by anti-trans violence.”

“I would also like to apologize to my family and friends who have been harassed,” she said, and “to my own community, to the LGBTQIA+ community.” Additionally Montoya said, “last but not least, I would like to apologize to the president, the White House and the nation.”

“It was also never my intention to create a situation that would lead to harassment [of] and harm [to] myself and others, nor for trans joy — like, my little moment of trans joy — to be weaponized by vile people of the opposition.”

Asked to respond to Montoya’s video, the White House on Tuesday condemned her behavior and said she would not be invited back.

The influencer’s decision to appear topless at the White House’s largest-ever Pride event — and one that was expressly catered toward LGBTQ families — “probably should have had more thought,” said trans Colorado State Rep. Brianna Titone.

“At this point in time, trans people are under a very powerful microscope,” she told the Washington Blade on Thursday, shortly after visiting the White House for a State Legislative Convening on Reproductive Rights.

“We need to be careful about the actions that we do and how it’s perceived, and I think that we should be more mindful of those decisions,” Titone said. “Everybody who fits the description of being trans, especially, needs to be mindful of what we do.”

“I don’t want to say, well, we need to be on our best behavior – because it’s stupid to do that –but that’s the world we live in right now,” she said. “And if we want to make progress and if we want to not be painted in these negative ways, we need to police ourselves.”

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